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The Austin Feminist Poetry Festival website is now up and running! It’s still in-progress, but I decided it was ready to go live.
There’s even a place to donate if you want to help support the festival. I’ve set up a PayPal account, and I’m looking forward to setting up a bank account for the event.
I’ve got big plans, not just for the festival, but for the future. After this year, I’m planning on doing the work to get us registered as a nonprofit. I’m excited to be creating a festival that I hope will endure long-term.
I’ve been hearing about The Artist’s Way ever since I moved to Austin, and saw it on the shelves on a regular basis when I worked at BookWoman. I have to admit, for the past four years, I thought it looked incredibly hokey. I knew lots of people who had done it, but I couldn’t get past the apparent cheesiness. But then, this summer, a poet I admire mentioned she would be doing The Artist’s Way again, and it wouldn’t be her first time. So I finally decided to give it a shot, no matter how cheesy.
So far, I have to say that the book has surprised me. In the first week, I have already been challenged, already made to think. Writing morning pages has allowed me to resuscitate a journal writing practice that has been stagnant for several years. Writing out daily affirmations doesn’t actually feel all that hokey. In fact, it’s refreshing. I’m also surprised, as I’m working on my affirmations, all the inner resistances and criticisms I have toward realizing the full potential of my creativity. It’s been worthwhile just to realize all the little ways my inner critic comes out.
I’ve also realized, while working through these exercises, that I have far more people in my life who support my work than I have people who create negative energy. I am very lucky to have so many wonderful friends, teachers, and supporters in my life.
The artist date is also a lot of fun. For this exercise, you go and do something fun all by yourself for a few hours. This week, I went out to Mount Bonnell and took a bunch of photographs. I hadn’t been out there in over two years, and had a great time wandering. The image at the top of this post is from some graffiti I found there; I found it particularly apt.
Speaking of photography, one of the exercises this week made me realize that I want to be more serious about my photo practice. So I’ve looked into workshops and joined some Meetup groups. I’m excited to see where this particular creative journey goes.
The one thing I have done differently is a slight tweak in terminology. Cameron uses the term “The Creator” in affirmations and in essays. When writing out my affirmations, I use “the world” instead. As an agnostic, I don’t feel comfortable writing out affirmations that invoke something resembling a deity. But “the world” is something that is larger than myself, and is something my skeptical mind accepts as real.
I did the reading for Week Two this morning, and I’m already looking forward to doing the exercises, going on my artist date (possibly the Elizabeth Ney museum, but I’m still deciding), and seeing where the week takes me.
This blog post is a year old, but just because it’s been around the internet awhile does not make it any less awesome. Over at the blog Social Justice League, Rachael wrote an amazing post entitled “J’accuse? On women who ‘collaborate’ with the patriarchy.“
I was pretty much cheering right from the introduction:
Being highly aware of sexism can be a tough gig. I sometimes wish I could turn off that nerve-jangle I get whenever someone says “he throws like a girl” or “don’t be such a pussy” or “she looks like a whore”. It’s tiring to go through every day constantly weighing up how we want to react. More specifically, for women who wish to actively resist the patriarchy, making everyday decisions becomes complicated: do I shave my body hair or not? Do I wear makeup to cover my pimple? If I want to wear socially-coded “sexy” clothes, am I actually subconsciously wishing to gain heteromale approval? Once you’re aware of sexism, you can’t easily switch that awareness off.
This is definitely something I struggle with on a daily basis. I can’t even watch a movie without my feminist consciousness scanning it for evidence of sexism. It’s what I do; it’s second-nature. I don’t think I could turn it off if I wanted to. And even though it’s frustrating sometimes, I’d rather be hyper-aware, than ignorant. Sometimes, such as at work, it’s not conducive to the environment if I call someone out. Sometimes, I’m just too tired to deal with it. So it becomes a day-to-day struggle figuring out how to deal with the sexism I encounter on a regular basis, and how my own actions fit in.
It’s honestly really difficult not to just repost the entire thing here, but that wouldn’t be right. The essay is just so well-written, and draws attention to an important fact: feminists often don’t know how to handle hyperfeminine women, and sometimes, our responses can be sexist:
Too often, hyperfemme women are unfairly accused of collaborating with the patriarchy. Yes, it’s true that the more people adhere to social gender norms, the harder it is to destroy these norms. There is no denying that some women are doing it explicitly to get heteromale attention, thereby buying into social power structures – and reinforcing them. But a lot of women just genuinely like presenting in a socially-coded feminine way. And if that is so, then presenting in that way is not collaboration at all. It is ridiculous to demand that women curtail their self-expression to further the feminist cause, when theaims of feminism include making it safe and acceptable for women to express themselves however they like.
Worse, a lot of the denigration of hyperfemininity is actually sexist. We associate lipstick and pink with women (this century, anyway) and then associate women with “weak” or “inferior”; when feminism tells us to destroy that second link, we just leap to “lipstick and pink must be inferior”. A lot of social opposition to traits or clothing or activities that are socially-coded-feminine is actually unexamined misogyny.
Rachael doesn’t forget that some feminine women can, in fact, be colluders. And that there are no easy answers when it comes to changing the world, much less one society. But she does offer this:
To the extent that we can accurately identify genuine cases of collaboration, which is difficult, we should see it for what it really is for those individuals: a survival response in a sexist society. That doesn’t make the behaviour any less problematic. That doesn’t mean it’s a good outcome. But it does mean that the individual is not the core problem. She is stuck in a system that makes certain demands on her, and this is how she’s going to play it.
That sucks, but clearly on some level that’s what she feels she has to do. It’s not anyone’s place to tell individual women how to respond to their situations. Of course we can call out hurtful and policing behaviour when we encounter it. Indeed, if we are able to do so, we must do that. But we must also criticise social norms that demand these behaviours from women, and in so doing, we shouldn’t let individual women become collateral damage. Our sexist opponents hate the idea of allowing women to make their own decisions, free from social norms, free from community pressure, free from judgement. We need to be absolutely sure that we never collaborate with them on that.
Identifying and changing sexism is difficult and complicated. Even the most active feminists encounter problems along the way. But we have to do our best,. and that means having compassion and avoiding judgment. And if that’s the best you can do, you’re doing a lot to make the world a better place. The world is lacking compassion in a lot of places; any amount you can give helps.
Lately, I’ve been perusing Jane Reichold‘s essays, insights, and wisdom about haiku. I’ve especially been inspired by “Some Thoughts for Rethinking Haiku,” which posits a series of questions about the form. Since haiku often result as part of my small stones practice, I decided it would be a fun exercise to respond to these questions on my blog. So without further ado…
Should there be a better term for poetry written in English that is the result of admiration and emulation of haiku?
Not one that I can think of.
Is the so-called “haiku moment” any different from the seconds of inspiration that occur with other works of art?
For me, it is. The haiku moment seizes me very suddenly when it happens. It’s a moment of clarity that forces me to stop and write. Even if what I put on paper isn’t a haiku in the proper form, it’s the impulse, the words themselves, that matter. With a standard poem, there is less of a triggering moment. Other poems come to me gradually, over time. They’re less sudden. (I would love to hear from other writers as to their answer to this question.)
It is traditional that a break occurs between the two phrases of a haiku; either after the first line or after the second. Do you miss this in haiku that read as a run-on sentence?
I do. I find myself very attached to line breaks, and less engaged when a haiku is written as a run-on sentence.
And haiku one-liners; how do you feel when you read them?
It’s harder for me to focus when the haiku is just one line. I like the tiny build of three lines. I like the way my brain responds to line breaks.
What about those where a break happens at the end of each line? Or the phrase breaks are mid-line?
This is the way I prefer to read haiku, probably because I have spent so many years reading poetry with line breaks, so my brain expects things to be a certain way.
Do you feel haiku need punctuation? If so, where and how much?
Sometimes a comma, semicolon, or em-dash might be necessary, but it depends on the poem. I definitely think haiku should have as little punctuation as possible for the poem to make sense.
While reading haiku can you see a link between the images in each one? Are there two “poles”, pulling your mind in opposite directions before the “snap” of the spark that joins dissimilar things?
In a well-written haiku, yes. This is something I actually try to achieve in all of my poems, not just haiku. (I often say that I’m primarily inspired by haiku even though I don’t write in the form all the time; I like the compression, and the way connections are expressed in such a small space.)
What makes a haiku different from other three-line short poems?
Honestly, I think the syllabic requirements, and not much else. I call many of my small stones haiku even though they don’t meet form requirements, though often change that designation when submitting work, because editors don’t always agree with me.
Do you miss a reference to nature or is that less important than the way the linkage works?
I think the linkage is most important. Nature is part of traditional haiku, and still has a place in contemporary haiku, but from my personal aesthetic, I find the linkage more compelling. The expanse of nature is not the only thing that can be expressed in a confined space.
Do days go by when you are too busy to write haiku until a pressing deadline forces you to look! and there they are haiku all around you?
At this point in my life, I’m glad to say that I’m never too busy for haiku (or small stone, depending on your definition). No matter how busy my day is, I am able to carve out a few minutes to reflect and write one of these brief poems. Haiku are all around me, no matter how busy I am, though they seem to be more easily observed before noon.
How often have you thought of a good haiku and neglected to write it down?
Probably fairly often in the past, but since I neglected the moment, I’ve forgotten about it entirely. These days, I don’t care what I’m doing. I whip out my notebook and jot it down. If for some reason I don’ t have paper and pen available, I type it into an Evernote document on my phone. I no longer make excuses for missing a moment.
Do you miss the time you are not open, searching for the crack in the reality of this world where you can slip in to find haiku?
I’ve become adept at taking time no matter what, though on busy days, when I can spare at most ten minutes, I feel frustrated that I don’t have longer.
What activities bring you into a state of awareness where haiku occur?
Seated meditation. Walking outside. Dancing, or watching people dance. Watching my dogs run around and play.
Would you like to spend more of your day in that consciousness?
Most definitely yes. The 40-hour workweek is not conducive to it, though.
What can be changed to accomplish this?
Setting up a meditation ritual, and sticking to it.
I haven’t gone on a photography walk since Christmas. But last weekend, I had the entirety of Saturday unscheduled and a desire to be out and about. So I texted my friend Savanni (whose photography skills are excellent) about going somewhere nearby for a good, long walk, accompanied by cameras. I has a specific itch to go somewhere with water, so we headed out to Johnson City, home to Pedernales Falls State Park.
We met up midmorning, and headed out on 290. Despite some traffic in Dripping Springs, we made it out unscathed, and spent nearly three hours climbing rocks and taking pictures. The water levels were low, of course, but that made for lots of good exploring. (Pedernales Falls is known for flash floods, and while Savanni and I would both like to see that one day, we would also like to observe it from a safe distance.)
While we were walking, I realized how long it had been since I’d spent extended time exploring the outdoors. I was at the beach in July, and since then I’ve pretty much been city-bound. And while I adore Austin, I didn’t realize just how much I’d been missing nature until I was immersed in it.
We had a perfect afternoon: climbing, walking, photographing, conversing. I ended up with a bit of sunburn (it’s autumn, but the sun here hasn’t lost intensity yet), and my calves are still sore, but it was all worth it to get outside, walk around, and enjoy Texas.
We finished off our afternoon with a late lunch at Torchy’s, which officially solidified the day’s greatness.
I’m also seriously considering investing in a Texas State Parks Pass. I would need to make one solo state park visit a month for it to pay for itself, and since I usually go to parks with at least one person, it would get cost-effective pretty quickly. Especially with the camping fee discount.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Barbara Hamby‘s poetry. (I have three lines from her “Nine Sonnets from the Psalms” tattooed on my arm, in her handwriting. If that’s not extreme poetry fandom, I don’t know what is.) I remember the very first time I read one of her poems. “Who Do Mambo” appeared at Poetry Daily, and within minutes of reading it, I’d ordered a copy of All-Night Lingo Tango from BookWoman. When I read it back in 2009, I was amazed at how well Hamby made use of the abecedarian form, especially abecedairan sonnet (a 13-line poem that starts with a and ends with b, etc.). Hamby has twenty-six abecedarian sonnets in All-Night Lingo Tango, cycling through the entire alphabet. The following is one of such sonnets, which also appeared in StorySouth.
Venus and Dogberry,
A Match Made in New Jersey
Venus, you are a major babe, your hair way big, and wow,
x-ray glasses are not needed with that see-though foxy
zebra print chiffon bra and matching thong. Fucking-A,
beautiful, I am not like that pansy Adonis. I want a bionic
diva in my king-size vibrating bed. Come on over here,
fair maid. Ain’t that the way youse guys talk? Thanksgiving,
Halloween, Christmas—everyday’s a holiday with you. I
just can’t believe I could get a goddess in the sack.
Let’s toot a few lines tonight, my little summer plum,
nip out for a juicy steak in my new candy-flake Eldorado,
play footsie under the table. No Miller High Life and bar-b-q
ribs for you, baby. Only the best. Put on your high heel sneakers,
toots. I’m a Sherman tank with guns blazing for you.
The few attempts I made at regular abecedarians (I didn’t consider myself skillful enough to try something other than the standard type) fell flat, in part because I wasn’t very motivated to write formal poems during that period of my writing life.
Last month, I was browsing through Wingbeats for an exercise to use as a springboard. I felt drawn to Hamby’s exercise on abecedarians, and after working through some of them, I felt compelled to write my own abecedarian sonnet series, twenty-six poems, each city based on a city or town in Texas whose name starts with the designated letter. Of course, there aren’t any towns in Texas that start with X, but I’ll figure that out as I work my way through the alphabet.
So far, I’ve written six of the sonnets (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, Laredo, San Antonio). Five are still in-progress, and the one about Dallas I consider complete, and is out for submission. I know I’ll be writing about Bastrop and Terlingua in the coming days. And even though this project is still in the very early stages, I’ve already learned a lot about abecedarian sonnets, and why I think they’re making me a better poet as I work through them
1. Writing an abecedarian sonnet is like playing chess
More so than with any other form, abecedarian sonnets require me to think at least three lines ahead. When the end of one line has to be a word that ends with d and the next line absolutely must start with e and end with f, and the line after that must start with g and end with h, you can’t just put down any old word that ends with d and decide you can fix it in revision. You’ll never get a coherent first draft. Abecedarian sonnets force me to think ahead, to know where the poem is going. And I find that, after I’ve let the draft sit, what results is more coherent than poems I’ve written where I’ve been writing blind.
2. Writing an abecedarian sonnet forces you out of linguistic complacency
When you’re writing in a form that forces you to end lines in q or j, standard English isn’t always going to cut it. You’re going to have to get creative and go exploring. You have to consider abbreviations, brands names, or other variations you might not otherwise put into your poetry. You have to explore other languages, make sure you understand the meaning of the word if the language is one you don’t know, and also make sure the word serves the purpose of the poem. You have to consider whether or not you’re going to fudge a little bit (i.e. “pool cue” if the letter is just not going to fit). So far, I’ve tried not to make those compromises, but with twenty poems left to write, I’m not sure how well I can sustain that desire.
3. Writing an abecedarian sonnet requires fastidious revision
Revision has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn as a writer. To know when something is truly great, versus good enough, is an art form unto itself. Abecedarian sonnets do not let you get away with that. The words that start and finish each line must be the absolute best ones. But the words that make up the rest of the line have to pull their own weight, too. Which is not to say that this isn’t true of other poetic forms, but the abecedarian sonnet really calls attention to that fact. There is so little room for error with word choice in this type of poem, and that means reading aloud (the part of revision I hate) over and over, questioning each word choice, and refusing to cut corners or settle.
Writing these sonnets is one of the best challenges I’ve undertaken in a while. I’m not sure what the end result will be, but I’m learning quite a bit as I go, and honing my craft in the process. I don’t imagine these sonnets will be completed anytime soon; there’s going to be a long road of revision. But I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
[EDIT: When this post went live, I noticed something was wonky with my YouTube embedding, and the same video had been embedded three times. Not sure what happened there! It should be fixed now.]
[EDIT 2: YouTube apparently hates me tonight, and refuses to display more than one video multiple times. Thanks, YouTube.]
These videos are a great starting point for anyone exploring feminism, but they’re also fun and engaging for longtime feminists. I’ve enjoyed watching these, revisiting topics I know, and finding new perspectives to explore.
Hodge also blogs at Gender Focus, which is well worth your time and attention.
Call for Poets
The Austin Feminist Poetry Festival is a new event designed to showcase the work of feminist poets, allow participants to explore and enhance their craft, and to foster discussions about poetry and its role in feminist and activist circles. The Festival will be held April 12th-14th, 2013. We’re currently seeking poets to lead workshops and panel discussions for our participants.
Workshop Leaders: The Festival will have four workshops during the Saturday session, and we’re looking for interested poets to lead sessions that will allow participants to explore their creativity in relationship to feminist thought, action, and practice. Please send proposed workshop title and structure to email@example.com.
Panel Leaders: The Festival will have four panel discussions, and we’re seeking people to lead discussions about creativity, feminism, and the intersections with class, race, education, family, and other aspects of life. If interested, please send proposed topic to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that this festival embodies an inclusive definition of feminism. It is not an event for women only (however you define the term). All feminist-identified people are welcome as workshop leaders, panelists, and participants.
We look forward to seeing you at the festival!
It’s Banned Books Month, and Pen is running a series of blog posts about controversial books. Yesterday, Anna Božičević had an excellent post about Madame Bovary.
Božičević starts by talking about the prosecution of the novel after its successful serial run, noting:
it is precisely this contrast between the “true/just/right” and the “good” that is on trial: aesthetic clash manifest.
But it’s not merely aesthetics, or the issue of basic decency, that’s at issue here:
The problem of Emma is the problem of desire. Her only métier is desire, and its top percent, love. Emma lusts for gratification through commodity and body and makes her body the commodity of gratification. And in her self-chosen death, is Emma Bovary not simply a Medusa felled by her own image?
Prosecutor Ernest Pinard wasn’t just concerned with Flaubert’s style; it was the fact that Emma (and her desire) could not be controlled.
But despite being published in 1865, that sense of judgment against uncontrollable women is not over. Božičević notes:
It’s not a tendency in Kristen Stewart, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston, Paz de la Huerta, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Cat Marnell that will be allowed by the public censor to pass without judgment. When women, the stuff of art, take their materiality into the freefall zone of de trop, either through imagination or its spectacular fail, Pinard will be there to seek for a person to rule them.
The public censor is loud, especially in the technological age, where we can criticize behavior in minutes thanks to photo and video uploads to social media. And yes, there is a difference between public censorship and worthwhile criticism. You can dislike Twilight without making sexist epithets about Kristen Stewart. You can be bored by Courtney Love’s work without resorting to name-calling or shaming. You can think Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a waste of time, but you don’t need to attempt to silence people. We don’t need to obsess about other people’s behavior (including/especially the behavior of celebrities). People will do what they want, even women, and they deserve better than constant judgment.
I had a fantastic time as the featured poet at Spoken & Heard this past Sunday. I had a couple of good friends in the audience, and Jon managed to get some of the poems on video. I thought I’d share some of my favorites from the evening.
Reading “Come Into the World Like That”
Paying tribute to Mary Oliver by reading her poem “Wild Geese”
Yes, I wrote a poem about visiting the dentist
Reading “Love Song to a ’94 Honda” and “Lizard”
Thanks again for the members of Spoken & Heard for featuring me, to the great baristas at Kick Butt Coffee, and to my friends who came to watch.